Sunday, January 25, 2009

Creative Tension, Obama & the Left

Perhaps no three sentences better define the big lie ethos of predatory conservatism than George Orwell’s,
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
All these years we liberal bloggers/activists struggled against an alternate reality that claimed global warming wasn’t real, health care in America was just fine, Iraq was the central front in the war on terror, we do not torture, we can maintain an empire on the cheap forever, all free trade agreements are good, tax cuts for the rich trickle down to everyone, privatization is always wonderful, Social Security belongs in the stock market, the free market makes regulation unnecessary, government belongs in our bedrooms, religious doctrine supersedes the Constitution, conservative politicians are morally superior to Terry Schiavo’s husband, Brownie did a great job, homosexuality is a deviant lifestyle choice, sex education should be entirely abstinence centric, evolution never happened, Sarah Palin is brilliant and reality can be ignored.

For too much of this struggle the Democratic Party was a self-gelding machine of ineptitude. Indeed, too many Democrats were collaborators and have blood on their hands. Hence, Howard Dean spoke for so many of us in March 2003 with his famous “What I Want To Know” speech in Sacramento.

Understandably, the scars remain for many of us on the left even after last week’s joyous celebration. Heinous crimes were committed in our name as an unpatriotic elitist plutocracy went on a grand larceny rampage under the guise of “national security,” “God,” “country” and “values.” Now the chickens have come home to roost.

Many of us warned that America was on a collision course with calamity and were either ignored or ridiculed. We therefore toiled to change the political landscape and since 2006 helped deliver Congress, the White House, as well as many statehouses and state legislatures to the Democrats.

Now we’re impatient for change. And we want accountability for the past. Whereas America’s old guard nomenklatura lectured about the “moral hazards” of bailing out homeowners and saving the jobs of auto workers, we rail against the moral hazards of allowing the highest officials in the Bush Administration to evade criminal prosecution. President Obama understandably does not want to get bogged down in prosecuting the past. We however believe that ignoring yesterday’s crimes risks them being repeated by future presidents of either party.

Many on the left, like myself, respect and admire President Obama. If nothing else it’s a relief to have a president that is well intentioned and intellectually curious. Nonetheless, our higher allegiance must remain with promoting peace, prosperity, human rights and social justice. In that spirit, many have cited Franklin Roosevelt who legend has it once told a group of reformers,
"I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."
President Obama needs a strong, assertive political left to help him push the barriers of change. Indeed, our passion is even more important under a Democratic President than it was in opposition to predatory conservatism because now we have leverage to influence policy. Yes, we really do.

We don’t have to be shrill or disrespectful about it. Under President Bush our default posture was to question his motives. I don’t question President Obama’s motives. I believe him to be honorable but results are the bottom line.

Too often Democrats have been willing to be “reasonable” at the onset of negotiations with predatory conservatives. The best negotiators start out by drawing lines in the sand, especially when they hold the high cards. Last week, President Obama admirably stood his ground against the Republican leadership that complained about his “Make Work Pay” proposal as he politely reminded them who won the election and I praised him for it.

Regrettably though, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin confirmed today that President Obama caved with respect to including bankruptcy “cram down” mortgage relief in the stimulus package. This is important.

As recently as Friday, President Obama was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with congressional Democrats and supported including legislation that allowed judges the authority to alter loan terms for primary residences. The banking industry who helped create the mess we're in are naturally opposed.

The very same industry that has wasted billions of tax payer bailout dollars now has the chutzpah to pressure congress to not include bankruptcy relief for out of work wage earners struggling to keep their homes. Even worse, they’re spending $83 million in lobbying Washington to not provide any bankruptcy relief to homowners. I wonder how much of that TARP bailout money was allocated for these lobbying efforts against struggling out of work home owners?

President Obama has indicated he will push for mortgage terms/bankrupt relief in separate legislation. However, passing separate legislation to provide this sort of relief for homeowners will be far tougher. President Obama has maximum leverage in a comprehensive economic recovery bill because Republicans don’t want to appear obstructionist with the country on the brink of an economic depression. Hence, the most effective negotiating posture is to dare Republicans to obstruct economic recovery just so the banks that refuse to extend credit can avoid any pain.

Republicans are taking Obama’s measure and for him to cave this early in his administration as well as the negotiating process is troubling. If Obama is rolled this easily with his political capital at its apex, what else will he cave on once the going really gets tough? Does President Obama really believe Republicans could obstruct comprehensive economic recovery without the entire country turning on them? What is he afraid of?

I realize that when President Obama reaches out to Republicans it's really about giving 80 conservative House Democrats political cover. Furthermore, I appreciate that maintaining the viability of a working majority requires some flexibility. Governing requires a broader coalition than Dennis Kucinich. I appreciate those realities and am prepared to enthusiastically praise the Obama administration when they deserve it. Indeed, I am already proud of the leadership President Obama has shown in his opening week.

Nonetheless, we must loudly oppose this surrender to the banking and lending industry. My sympathies are with laid off autoworkers and small business owners, struggling to make their mortgage payments. Not the money-lenders who irresponsibly created the housing bubble and refuse to absorb any pain while millions of Americans are confronting destitution and homelessness.

Call your representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate and insist that mortgage terms/bankruptcy relief be included in the stimulus package. Moments like this require creative tension from the left. That’s not being disloyal to President Obama. Rather it’s saving him from himself.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama's First Weekly Presidential Address

I've said it before, President Obama is utilizing the web as a means for twenty-first century fireside chats as with this address about his proposed economic recovery plan.

Click here to review a four page bullet summary provided by the White House about the plan. It's reminiscent of the PDF summaries from his campaign website. Once the economic recovery plan is passed, the Obama Administration promises to illustrate how the money is being spent at this website.

As we can see, the rubber is starting to hit the road with respect to the policy debate about the economy. I appreciate President Obama's efforts at transparency. Nonetheless, we liberals must remain vigilant in defense of middle/lower income wage earners and small business entrepreneurs as more details are revealed.

Making Work Pay

I'm currently writing an essay about creative tension between the Obama Administration and the left in our quest to promote peace, prosperity and social justice. In the meantime, I just wanted to do a quick post about President Obama's proposal for a "Making Work Pay" tax credit to benefit workers who earn too little to pay taxes yet do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

In a bipartisan meeting of congressional leadership yesterday, Eric Cantor, the Republican number two House leader objected to the proposal. Predatory conservatives such as Cantor typically prefer that tax benefits go to the wealthy and champion the failed policy of trickle down economics. Liberals prefer a progressive tax system that helps low wage earners spend money on necessities such as food, utilities and shelter. It is our belief that money in the hands of people who need it most is the best tonic for the economy.

Well, the New York Times reports that according to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama told Cantor,
"We just have a difference here and I'm President."
The Times described the moment as lighthearted and respectful. Nonetheless, while civil, President Obama clearly stood his ground.

Congressman Cantor recalled President Obama as saying,
"You're correct, there's a philosophical difference, but I won, so we're going to prevail on that." Cantor further added that, "There was no disrespect, but it was very matter-of-fact."
That's real change and I like it.

The Bruno Indictment

The other major development in New York politics yesterday was the indictment of former Republican state senate majority leader Joe Bruno for eight counts of public corruption. Specifically, Bruno is accused of defrauding New Yorkers as a consulting firm he was associated with received hundreds of thousands of dollars through contracts with state agencies. The indictment released by the Department of Justice is a thirty-five page PDF document and culmination of a two year FBI investigation. It's an interesting read.

Candidly, what Bruno is accused of is far worse than anything former governor Eliot Spitzer ever did. Ultimately, Spitzer's transgressions were private while Bruno exploited his powerful position to defraud New Yorkers and undermine state government's performance to enrich himself.

Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY writes at the Albany Project that Bruno's indictment reveals how pitifully corrupt New York State truly is:
"This is an indictment of not only Joe Bruno, but also of New York State's ethics laws. The man who held the highest position of power in the state legislature for years is formally accused of betraying the public interest on behalf of his self interest. Joe Bruno's indictment emphatically highlights the shameful state of New York's ethics laws, graphically demonstrating why the Legislature should not be expected to police the ethics of its own members. Even more disquieting is that the indictment is further proof that, for years, the only meaningful ethics and corruption oversight in New York State is being carried out by federal agents and United States Attorneys. This is a sad day for Joe Bruno, and sadder still for the New York Legislature."
For what it's worth, Bruno is known for being close to Kirsten Gillibrand's family and is friendly with Governor David Paterson as well. For all the negative publicity Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Chicago politics has received in recent weeks, the Empire State remains the gold standard of pay to play corruption.

Friday, January 23, 2009

New York, New York

Unless hermetically sealed in a dungeon you know that Governor David Paterson finally named Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Clinton. First let me address the fallout with respect to the disastrous public relations courtship between Caroline Kennedy, Governor David Paterson and his staff. Both Paterson and Kennedy are diminished from the entire process.

I never believed Kennedy was appropriate for the position or capable of withstanding the rough and tumble of New York politics. To her credit, Kennedy has been a citizen advocate for progressive causes and survived the public relations goldfish bowl far better than several other Kennedys who became entangled in scandals. Yet it was quite apparent during her “listening tour” that Kennedy did not have the right stuff.

Furthermore, Kennedy appeared to project a sense of entitlement about the position that was off putting. Other New York dynastic political figures such as Robert Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo repeatedly demonstrated toughness, the willingness to work for their support and the resilience to bounce back from self-inflicted wounds. Without those skills a politician has no shot in the unique New York media cauldron. Sadly, Kennedy’s image took a beating and this Camelot icon will never be looked upon the same way again. She asked for it but it’s regrettable nonetheless.

Putting Kennedy’s flaws aside however, Governor Paterson’s administration was graceless in publicly throwing her underneath the bus after she asked to no longer be considered. It was bad enough that Paterson appeared disorganized, narcissistic and inept during his own selection process. Even worse was his staff’s eagerness to kick Kennedy while she was down in order to salvage Paterson’s reputation. Yes, the New York Times reported that Kennedy had personal issues with respect to taxes and a household employee. It's also true that her public performances these past few weeks were uneven at best.

However, the New York media was already piling on and pouring more salt in Kennedy’s wounds only served to make Paterson appear small. It seems inevitable now that Paterson will be challenged in the 2010 Democratic primary. If Eliot Spitzer was a vindictive bull in a china shop then the previous 24 hours has exposed Paterson as a feckless barking dog with no teeth that cowardly refused to let Kennedy depart the stage with any semblance of dignity. It was Paterson’s fault the process with Kennedy went as far as it did in the first place. A putrid demonstration of leadership at a time when accountability and competence are needed most.

With respect to Representative Gillibrand, I am neither enthusiastic nor gnashing my teeth. I would have preferred a genuine liberal advocate such as state Senator Liz Krueger or Congressman Jerrold Nadler who unflinchingly opposed the Bush Administration’s worst civil liberties abuses. Gillibrand is a respectable choice but she’s no liberal and won’t be a counterweight to Chuck Schumer who is in bed with the banking industry, and also paved the way for Michael Mukasey to serve as George W. Bush’s Attorney General in spite of being pro-torture.

In 2006, I phonebanked for Gillibrand when she challenged four term Republican incumbent John Sweeney in New York’s conservative upstate 20th congressional district. Naturally, Gillibrand reflects the cultural mores of her upstate conservative constituents with respect to guns and is a member in good standing of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives. Electing centrists such as Gillibrand was the price for securing a majority in the House and Gillibrand does have her good points too.

Gillibrand is a strong advocate of legislation to reinforce the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Act to keep guns away from criminals. She also courageously supports same-sex marriage and that is not an easy position for any upstate legislator to assume. Gillibrand has been a reliable supporter of abortion rights, stem cell research, and the Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act. On fiscal matters she opposed the TARP bailout, supports extending the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and has a record of opposing Social Security privatization. In other words, Gillibrand has a centrist record. Pretty good on most social and civil libertarian issues but fiscally too conservative for my taste.

Gillibrand’s challenge now is persuade downstate urban voters like myself that she can represent the entire state’s diverse interests and views. Pro gun control congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy has indicated she will challenge Gillibrand in the Democratic 2010 primary. McCarthy as New Yorkers may recall first entered congress following the tragic shooting of her husband in 1993.

I’m pro gun control but will make my decision on whom to support over a wide spectrum of issues while evaluating Gillibrand’s performance. Robert Harding over at the Albany Project provides a useful guide about gun control with respect to upstate/downstate perspectives and Gillibrand in a post today that is worth reading.

Hopefully, there will be several Democratic primary challengers vigorously competing to provide options for both governor as well as senator. Party establishment figures often prefer the banality of “unity” but I’ve always believed that intra-party competition is healthy. Two years is a lifetime in politics and that is doubly true given our current economy. In the meantime, New York desperately needs both Paterson to quickly get his act together and Gillibrand to grow into her new job with dispatch. Otherwise New Yorkers will need viable options to consider as replacements.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ILJ Sourced In Wikinews

To my utter amazement, the Intrepid Liberal Journal was sourced at the bottom of an entry in Wikinews today. Longtime readers of this blog may recall my October 23, 2006 post entitled, Reminiscing About the Future: Barack Obama's Inauguration Speech. It was my attempt to draft a hypothetical inauguration speech in Obama's voice at the time. Unbeknownst to me, it was speculated that the same Obama photo I uploaded from a Google Images search was later used to create the iconic Barack Obama HOPE poster by artist Shepard Fairey. The mystery was ultimately solved by the resourceful sleuthing of Tom Gralish. Gralish identified Mannie Garcia as being the photographer of the picture used by Fairey

I've only recently learned how much controversy existed over this topic. During the campaign I was entirely focused on issues, the horserace narrative and my activism. These sorts of side topics did not interest me and it also never occurred to me that my post would generate interest because of the photo I used.

It's also amusing to read some of the comments from that post two years ago. Keep in mind when reading it that the Democrats hadn't even retaken congress yet. I also received numerous emails at the time accusing me of being crazy for even suggesting that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president.

Ironic that the very day President Obama was inaugurated my hypothetical inauguration speech has received such high volume traffic. I was receiving emails from people with photography blogs and journalists hoping I might know who took the original photograph until Gralish figured it out. Such is life in the online world. Kudos to Tom Gralish for figuring it out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day

My advice to liberal activists is simple: enjoy today. Our recent past under President George W. Bush was tragic, criminal and shameful. The years ahead will be challenging and tough. At times pragmatic political expediency inside the Obama administration will clash with our convictions. Creative tension is inevitable and necessary to advance the cause of peace, prosperity and social justice. Americans are embarking on long-term project of rebuilding our house after putting out an eight-year fire. How we rebuild that house can and will be debated intensely.

For me however, today simply means drawing strength from a refreshing sense of hope and renewal. An intelligent, capable and decent human being becomes president today. That is no small thing after eight long years of George W. Bush’s insipid reign of indecency and incompetence. I busted my ass to help make it happen. So did many of you. I intend to fully enjoy the moment and hope you will too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When America Burned After the King Assassination: An Interview With Author Clay Risen

Tomorrow, America honors the birthday of heroic civil rights activist Martin Luther King. Americans revere King across the political and ethnic spectrum for his wisdom, idealism, courage and practice of non-violent civil disobedience against the forces of racial oppression. Thanks in large part to the trailblazing efforts of King and his followers; America inaugurates its first black president the very next day when Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20th. Yet even as Americans celebrate the historical arc from Martin Luther King to Barack Obama, the scars of racial injustice remain woven into our country’s fabric.

Understandably, historians have overlooked the immediate aftermath of King’s assassination in a Memphis, Tennessee hotel on April 4th, 1968. The meaning of King’s life as well as the tragedy his loss represented has received considerable attention from historians and the body politic. Yet the immediate aftermath of King’s death was dwarfed by his iconic life as well as the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the violence that took place during the Democratic National Convention later that year.

Clay Risen, author of A Nation On Fire: America In the Wake of the King Assassination (John Wiley & Sons) argues that what transpired immediately after April 4th impacted America as intensely as King’s death itself. Within hours, there was rioting in Washington D.C. and before the violence subsided, the U.S. Army occupied three major American cities while National Guard units patrolled a dozen more. Overall, there were disturbances in nearly 120 cities. Ultimately, the riots helped facilitate forty years of conservative hegemony as urban America reaped the whirlwind of white resentment and indifference.

Risen specifically chronicles the period covering President Lyndon Johnson’s withdrawal from the 1968 campaign on March 31st, to King’s assassination on April 4th and culminates with Johnson’s signing of the 1968 Civil Rights Act on April 11th. The author relies on dozens of interviews as well as newly declassified documents to provide a dramatic day-by-day, city-by-city narrative of the riots, from the looting in Washington to violence in Chicago, Baltimore and other cities following King's death in Memphis.

Indeed, Risen skillfully takes the reader on a historical tour with larger than life personalities like the militant Stokely Carmichael to white racist vigilantes in Baltimore and political figures such as New York City Mayor John Lindsey, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, New York Senator Robert Kennedy and Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew. Perhaps the book’s most dramatic anecdote was when a young Deputy Attorney General named Warren Christopher, joined General Ralph Haines, and Public Safety Commissioner Patrick Murphy at a Washington DC gas station pay-phone to recommend to President Johnson that he deploy federal troops in the nation’s capitol.

George Pelecanos, author of The Turnaround and The Night Gardner issued the following praise for Risen’s book:
“Clay Risen’s A Nation on Fire is the long-awaited definitive account of one of the most important, underreported events of the 1960s. As important for its historical aspect as it is for understanding where we are today, it is an exciting, important document, excitingly told.”
Risen, was formerly an editor at The New Republic and is the founding Managing Editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. He has also contributed to Smithsonian, Slate, the Atlantic, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Risen agreed to a telephone interview with me in a podcast format about his book as well as the fateful days following King’s death. Our conversation was just over forty-seven minutes. Please refer to the flash media player below.

Either searching for the Intrepid Liberal Journal or Robert Ellman can also access this interview at no cost via the Itunes Store.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush Was Right

I agree with one segment of George W. Bush's Farewell Address:
"But good and evil are present in this world and between the two, there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere.

Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace."
It is for the very reasons President Bush articulated in those five sentences, that I and other liberal activists opposed his administration, his party and his reign of indecency. In opposing Bush, we challenged a predatory ideology that perverted our nation's highest ideals to justify empire, sadism, corporatism, theocracy and needless war. I regret that our activism failed to prevent the crimes committed in my country's name. George W. Bush leaves behind a legacy of darkness, destitution and death.

This Video Speaks For Itself

As a Jewish American New Yorker I am appalled by many of the comments seen on this video. I am every bit as appalled as I was at the ignorant racist comments made against Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. The sheer disregard these people have for the Palestinian casualties in Gaza is repugnant. There is an old cliche that if one is not careful they're at risk of resembling their enemies. Some of the people seen in this video express the same sort of hateful diatribes uttered by "Islamic terrorists." I have no adequate words to express my anger and sorrow.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Memo To My Brooklyn Neighbors: Please Support Josh Skaller For City Council

In 2006, I was disappointed when liberal Chris Owens lost in his bid to be the Democratic Party nominee for the 11th Congressional District here in Brooklyn. Owens has been a steadfast advocate for renter interests against predatory developers. Longtime readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may recall that as a congressional candidate, Owens was my first podcast interview!

Well, I'm happy to report that Chris Owens remains a force in local politics and is currently Josh Skaller's campaign manager for City Council. As far as I'm concerned, Skaller could not have a better character reference then Chris Owens. Indeed, Skaller is a liberal very much in the Chris Owens mode with respect to developers. As Skaller puts it on his website:
"I love Brooklyn—our neighborhoods and our people, the incredible warmth I feel walking around our vibrant and diverse communities. Like you, I know that Brooklyn is a terrific place to live and raise our families. But everywhere we look these days, the things that make our borough great are under assault. Developers and out of touch politicians seem determined to transform our community into an endless series of high-rise condos and strip malls. I believe that unchecked development threatens the beauty and integrity of our neighborhoods, overtaxes public services, and places an incalculable burden on our fragile ecology. I’m willing to stand up to the developers, and I hope you’ll stand with me."
I realize many of us are focused on the incoming Obama administration as well as how Governor David Paterson and the new Democratic majority in the state senate grapple with high stakes issues in Albany. We should not neglect local politics however during these perilous times as New York City is forced to prioritize over a shrinking pie. Mayor Mike Bloomberg has repeatedly demonstrated that he is not on the side of our local community interests. Hence, we need representatives such as Josh Skaller in the city council to serve as a check. This is especially true should Bloomberg be re-elected.

From upgrading our mass transit, to addressing New York City's under-served public school system, affordable housing and accountability in city government, Skaller is in sync with the reformist values of New York City's progressive netroots community. He's been an effective force in local politics on behalf of the community as President of Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats for the past two years, as well as an executive member of Democracy for New York City.

As you might expect, Skaller is not accepting contributions from developers and is therefore relying on grassroots fund-raising to be competitive. I therefore urge my Brooklyn neighbors to click here and contribute to Skaller's campaign. He's the real deal and we need him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Vermont Carpenter & Poet Named Patrick Gillespie

Yes, I realize the world is going to hell and a hand basket. American forces continue to occupy two countries, Israel is going berserk in Gaza, capitalism is self-liquidating and global warming lurks as a ticking time bomb. Nonetheless, please allow me to take a break from my usual political/current events/policy blogging to promote my good friend Patrick Gillespie's poetry blog, PoemShape. Now more than ever, embracing artistic creativity is needed in our daily lives as a humanity touchstone.

Patrick describes himself as a,
"Carpenter & Poet living ‘up in Vermont’. I have three little girls, too many possessions, and too little time."
Hence, his blogging pseudonym, "Up In Vermont." Long time readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may recall the incisive and sometimes irreverent comments Patrick has posted here over the years. His comments are really a continuation of an ongoing twenty-year conversation. We've been talking, debating, mocking and pondering the world of politics and popular culture since we were sarcastic undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence College. Between us we must have every episode of the original Star Trek and Beatles song memorized.

In 1999, William L. Bauhan published a collection of Patrick's poems entitled, Opening Book. It was well received but not well promoted. My favorite review was from Robert Frost biographer Jay Parini who wrote,
"Patrick Gillespie writes with clarity and grace: two virtues often absent from contemporary poetry."
I pick up Opening Book whenever I'm despondent or simply need to feel as if I'm engrossed and floating at the same time. The book also includes Patrick's delicious "All Hallow's Eve" fable.

With his PoemShape blog, Patrick not only features his own work but also promotes appreciation for the art itself:
"I started the blog for two reasons. The first was to get my poems before the public, and the second was to talk about something I like - Poetry. Besides my poetry, if something I write helps another enjoy poetry then all the better."
Patrick's analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnets, Chaucer's Iambic Pentameter style as well as his stated preference for "meter" over "free verse" is instructive and provocative. His commentary about Shakespeare's 145th Sonnet is especially vintage Patrick:
"This is one of my favorite Sonnets by Shakespeare. And it is the one sonnet, of the 154, that some Shakespeare 'scholars' consider to be apocryphal - which is to say, they think it isn’t by Shakespeare. I, drawing my line in the Vermont snow, say they are wrong. This sonnet, unless some letters are discovered, is as close as we may come to hearing Shakespeare’s unscripted voice."
Patrick's blog is worth reading for the detailed analysis he provides about Sonnet 145 alone. I can just hear Patrick's voice with the line: "I, drawing my line in the Vermont snow, say they are wrong."

Overall, avid poetry readers may not agree with Patrick's analysis or opinions but will hopefully admire his demonstrated love for the art. More importantly, novices will be inspired to learn about poetry for themselves after reading his blog. Either way, Patrick Gillespie's PoemShape blog provides nourishment in a time of turbulence.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Israel's Colin Powell

A decade ago, I hoped current Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak would be the next Yitzhak Rabin. Sadly, Barak has morphed into Israel's Colin Powell instead. Today's New York Times profile of Barak's rising political fortunes is a sad commentary about Israel's body politic and Barak himself.

A decade ago I respected Barak and believed him to be Yitzak Rabin’s natural heir. His mentor Rabin was a soldier statesman who bled for Israel's self-preservation from day one but later took personal risks for peace. During the 1980s, Rabin served as Defense Minister in the Labor/Likud coalition government and implemented a "broken bones" policy to put down the first Palestinian Infitada. Rabin though was not comfortable strategically or morally with Israel as an occupying power and he later collaborated with his onetime Labor Party rival Shimon Peres to facilitate the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat.

Oslo is ridiculed today and the famous 1993 handshake with Arafat as Bill Clinton cajoled a reluctant Rabin is far removed from today's world. Sadly, Rabin paid the ultimate price and was assassinated by a right wing nut in November 1995. I'm convinced that had Rabin lived a two state solution would be within reach today. Alas, we'll never know.

Islamic extremists exploited Rabin's assassination and used terrorism to undermine Shimon Peres's government. Peres had never prevailed in a national election before and didn't possess Rabin's national security credentials. That opened the door for the despicable Benjamin Netenyahu in 1996 who zealously pursued a reckless policy to achieve a "Greater Israel."

Ehud Barak defeated Netenyahu in May 1999 but not before the peace constituencies in both Israeli and Palestinian societies were severely dispirited. Both Arafat and Barak also blundered at Camp David in 2000-2001 as President Clinton desperately tried to bridge the divide. With neither Arafat nor Barak possessing the political capital or will to make the necessary compromises, super-hawk Ariel Sharon provoked conflict with his stroll into the Temple Mount as the Israeli public elected him to succeed Barak in 2001. The Palestinians reaped the whirlwind as Barak opted to leave politics.

Barak returned to serve in Prime Minister Olmert's Kadima-Labor coalition government following the disastrous war with Lebanon in 2006. As the New York Times reported, he opposed military aggression in Gaza just as Colin Powell disagreed with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld over the Iraq War. As the article also notes, Barak initially resisted warmongers in Israel’s body politic as an old soldier who is horrified by war and didn’t believe a harsh military response to Gaza made strategic sense.

Indeed, Barak was rightfully more concerned with the strategic long view with respect to Iran and believed occupying Gaza would be self-defeating. Yet just like Colin Powell, Barak opted not to resign or publicly oppose his government's policy.

So Barak is now prosecuting a war he knows to be immoral and strategically self-defeating. A war that international aid organizations such as the Red Cross are properly condemning Israel for after four children were discovered next to the bodies of their dead mothers. And Barak's political fortunes are rising because of it as nation states typically rally in a time of war. There is a good chance he will prevail in the upcoming election for Prime Minister against the transparently narcistic Netanyahu and feckless Kadima Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livini.

As I've previously written, Hamas also merits condemnation for regarding their people as collateral damage just as Arafat did while he lived the good life inside Lebanon back in 1982. Nonetheless, Israel has responded disproportionately to Hamas's provocations. The number of Israeli deaths does not justify the mass killing of innocent Palestinian civilians. As someone dedicated to peace and human rights as well as a Jew who cares about Israel, my heart feels as if it's impaled on a dull blade.

And Barak, the hero of the Entebbe Rescue in 1976 and onetime Yitzak Rabin protégé is an enabler. Pitifully, Barak actually represents the best Israel's body politic has to offer. A decade ago Barak's political ascendancy represented hope. Today this talented man is a symbol of Israel's decaying body politic that has gone insane. Just like Colin Powell and America’s body politic in 2002.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Promoting Blog Talk Radio At WWL

One of my favorite bloggers is Diane G, the proprietor of the Wild Wild Left (WWL). Diane has asked me to post her promotion of WWL's entry into the exciting world of blog talk radio. Read all about it below.

This Friday, January 9th will be the premier of the Wild Wild Left Radio Hour at 6pm Eastern time on the Blogtalk Radio Network.

Listen to The Wild Wild Left on internet talk radio

I'm Diane G, and will be producing the weekly hour, and am honored to have two of the Left Blogosphere's best writers, Gottlieb and Ed Encho as Co-Hosts of the Show.

This week we will open with a short introductory conversation, followed by a WWL take on current events.

In our second half hour, our special guest this week is Commander Jeff Huber, author of two books, and proprietor of the esteemed "Pen and Sword" blog.

Cmdr. Huber will be answering questions from a military expertise point of view about the fronts we are engaged in presently, as well as the Gaza Crisis.

Tune into to listen to the live stream, add commentary in the live chat area, or call in and talk directly to our Hosts or Guest. Make sure you tell me what Blog you post from, and we will shamelessly plug your blog on air too!

All you have to do to join us, is click the blogtalkradio link, and you will be able to listen to the live stream of our radio show.

If you want to be able to type questions or suggestions in without calling in, you have to go to that same link and create an account first. That will allow you to type in the chat. Its free, and will allow us to see what you type while we are on the air. If you have never used a chat, all you do is type and hit enter, and all user comments appear in a window, chronologically.

I will add the direct "link" to the chat 15 minutes before the show on The Wild Wild Left.

You do not have to sign in to listen or call! The call is free, other than whatever phone charges your own service provides. The area code is in New York.

Now, if we get a lot of potential callers, you may have to re-dial. Once you get through TURN YOUR SPEAKERS DOWN and listen to the show through your phone while on hold. Listen for me to say "You're on the Air!" and then fire away! :)

We would love to hear from you!!!!

If you miss the show, and want to hear it, there will be a podcast embedded at WWL shortly after the show.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Panetta Good, Feinstein Bad

Too tired after a long day to express any complex or nuanced thoughts. So, I'll simply write that California Senator Diane Feinstein has zero credibility. Her pathetic oversight performance of intelligence "insiders" during George W. Bush's presidency while serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee merits no respect. Hence, I am encouraged by Feinstein's opposition to an intelligence outsider such as Leon Panetta being nominated as the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. If a figure so lacking in foresight and judgment such as Senator Feinstein is opposed to Panetta's nomination then it must be a good idea.

The culture within the CIA does not deserve to be rewarded with one of their own like George Tenet. Sadly, Feinstein has demonstrated a grotesque predisposition to favor the very intelligence insiders that have undermined America's moral authority as well as damaged our national security. Panetta possesses just the sort of impeccable management credentials needed to facilitate a culture of accountability and competence at the CIA. And accountability and competence are long overdue.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Citizen's Petition To Prosecute War Crimes

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Formal Petition to Attorney General-Designate Eric Holder to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute any and all government officials who have participated in War Crimes. To sign the petition, click on the badge above. Also, any readers who have blogs, please click on the "Get Badge" designation and copy and paste the HTML code so your readers will be aware of it. The goal is 100,000 signatures and I am only the 13,756th person to sign. So please spread the word.

At stake is the restoration of what is left of our national honor. America will never have moral authority in the world again unless those who perpetuated war crimes are held accountable.

Twenty First Century Fireside Chats

During these times of adversity and hardship, President-Elect Obama's weekly online addresses resemble Franklin Roosevelt's radio "fireside" chats of the 1930s. Below is Obama's latest. Obama projects optimism and statesmanship. His reasonable demeanor and words are effectively throwing down the gauntlet to partisan Republicans desperately searching for a pretext to obstruct any economic recovery plan without appearing partisan himself. It's hard to see how Americans can possibly rally to Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner under current circumstances. Neither McConnell or Boehner appear rational or provide any reassurance that they truly grasp what is happening in America today.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Reclaiming The Word Liberal In the Age of Obama

Words matter. Labels matter. Although it has become vogue to say, “Voters are tired of labels” they remain powerful. How we define the meaning of those labels is critical. Those of us who call ourselves “liberal” have learned this the hard way. As a liberal activist who slogged, blogged and endured, I find myself reflecting about the word “liberal” and the abuse it’s absorbed with Obama’s inauguration less then three weeks away.

It seems like only yesterday I volunteered for the Dukakis campaign in college as my candidate defensively denied he was a liberal. At the time voters associated the word “liberal” with convicted rapists. In the last days of the ’88 campaign, Dukakis finally declared himself a liberal and attempted to define it on his own terms. Alas, it was too little too late.

From 1968 through 2004, predatory conservatives successfully defined liberalism to mean unpatriotic intellectual elites living in ivory towers, spewing hate America first diatribes while celebrating permissiveness over responsibility, trashing God, empowering welfare recipients over those who work and advocating surrender to America’s enemies. In other words, to be a liberal was to be un-American. This past year, liberalism wasn’t necessarily made “cool” but the right wing’s ability to distort it was undermined following eight years of George W. Bush’s reign of indecency.

Ultimately, predatory conservatism’s success at equating “liberal” with “un-American” empowered a theocratic kleptocracy to wage class warfare from the top, undermine civil liberties and prosecute an immoral foreign policy. If money is the “mother’s milk” of politics then words, labels and definitions are the music that either inspire or scare. Hence, we must reclaim the word liberal or President-Elect Obama and congressional Democrats will find themselves in a defensive crouch anytime they try to promote peace abroad or establish a compassionate, judicious and fairer social contract at home.

Diane G, put it well in a comment to me following an x-post of my essay “Replacing the Cultural Ethos of Predatory Conservatism” over at Wild Wild Left:
“Equally, the campaign against the term Liberal has brutalized its image, when in fact it is more Patriotic to support EVERYONE's rights, and oppose abuses of our fellow citizenry.

Our first work must include making those terms of definition themselves irrelevant, for one cannot easily unlearn trained connotations.”
For the very reason Diane G articulated, I named this blog Intrepid Liberal Journal when I started blogging in November 2005. Like many bloggers, I was expressing myself in opposition to our criminal foreign policy abroad and the conservative nomenklatura at home. Although I’ve certainly used the word “progressive” and like it, declaring myself a “liberal” was a proud act of defiance following decades of slander by predatory conservatives and their accomplices in the corporatist media. My attitude was,
“Yeah, I’m a liberal. Want to make something of it?”
Well, Democrats are no longer the opposition but the word liberal still needs to be defined if they are to govern in a manner that reconciles with our ideals. Most are familiar with John Kennedy’s characterization of liberalism:
“But if by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I'm proud to say I'm a Liberal.”
My Left Wing’s Maryscott O’Connor referenced Kennedy’s definition during the ’08 presidential campaign with a terrific essay entitled, “Why We Are Liberals” and went much further. Three months later it remains a must read and even more relevant with Democrats poised to assume the reigns. Her three paragraphs below are especially poignant:
“Liberals want to live in a world whose political leaders serve the people, rather than their own interests. We want American politicians to serve their constituents, rather than the corporate interests represented by the lobbying industry, let alone their own selfish aims (which almost always begin with retaining their seats of power, to the exclusion of actually using that power in the manner they ought).

We want to live to see the day when healthcare is a human right, not a pricey privilege or a ‘benefit.’ We want to live to see a day when the government regulates corporations, not personal lives. We want to be told the truth by the media and by those the media cover. We are sick of the lies, the spin, the charade. So sick of our default setting perception of anyone in government or power being distrust and cynicism. And so very sick of the wretched, ubiquitous suspicion that the whole system is rigged and there's nothing about it we can do.

We are idealists. That's what liberals are, really; those who see what is and ask, ‘Why?’ and see what isn't and ask ‘Why not?’ Liberals want to see met the basic needs of every human being. Liberals look at a world where one rich man can build an entire city out of gold while millions of poor people go without nutrition, water or medicine for their entire lifetimes -- and ask, ‘Why is this so? Is this not wrong -- and insane? And why do so many refuse to see it as such?’”
Nobody writes like Maryscott and there isn’t much I can add to that.

I would point out though that liberalism is the indispensable alternative to revolution or reaction. Now more then ever our world is teetering between elites that desperately want to hang onto power and privilege, xenophobic absolutists that reject any worldview different from their own, anarchists opposed to any kind of structure and revolutionaries eager to replace the oligarchies and autocracies that oppress them with their own brand of dictatorships.

The best thing America can do for this world on the brink is to lead by example with a humane society that values truth, nurtures progress without bloodshed or oppression and embraces dignity as a universal right for everyone. People should not have to take to the streets for healthcare, be paid the wages they deserve, insist that we stop incarcerating millions of people gratuitously for profit or demand their government only goes to war as a last resort. A liberal government that puts the needs of the people above it or the powerful will never have to fear the people or prevent them from knowing the truth.

Judicious, compassionate, intelligent, rationale, humane and visionary represents liberalism’s core values and creed. Predatory conservatives will most certainly endeavor to obstruct President-Elect Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by disparaging the word liberal as well as distorting the record of Franklin Roosevelt’s liberal New Deal. Thus, if Obama’s era is to be one in which peace and prosperity prevail, we must vigilantly equate the word liberal with the very principles we hold dear.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dialing For Change

Many on the left are angered by any hints of compromise with corporate interests from the incoming Obama Administration as well as congress. Meanwhile, Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is scheming to block and/or dilute any economic recovery plan put forward by the new administration. McConnell’s obstruction efforts are likely to be aided by the Blue Dogs Caucus recently formed by Indiana Democratic Senator, Evan Bayh. One may also surmise that Bayh’s new caucus will be the recipients of considerable corporate cash now that Republicans are no longer the majority party.

So how should activists respond to the situation? Admittedly, many of us, including me, are burned out after an intense election campaign and want to decompress.

However, a consumer activist named Dennis Baer has a website in which he urges citizens to take the fight to the source: corporate America itself.

According to Baer,
“Because corporations have taken over the legislative process, we citizens should join together and use our purchasing power and withhold our purchases from some of these major corporations and demand the legislation from some of these companies that have blocked progress. To this end I have formulated these telephone campaigns.”
Baer has three primary corporate targets for this telephone campaign to lobby on behalf of change or threaten a customer boycott:
  • Rite Aid Pharmacies – 1-800-325-3737 – Specifically, Baer hopes to pressure the retail giant into lobbying the president and congress into enacting universal healthcare. Rite Aid is known for contributing to politicians dedicated to obstructing efforts at health care reform.
  • General Electric Corporation – 1-800-386-1215 – General Electric is one of many companies engaged in war profiteering and Baer hopes to pressure them into lobbying the president and congress into ending the Iraq War sooner rather than later. There are far more companies then General Electric profiting from the war (Halliburton, Bechtel, etc.) but since they also control the NBC television network, this is as good a target as any.
  • Wendy’s Restaurants – 1-800-443-7266 – Baer hopes to pressure the retail giant into supporting a minimum wage of $10/hr.
For good measure, Baer adds the office of Senator Mitch McConnell (telephone number 202 224-2541) and suggests we tell his office that no filibusters or we’ll boycott Brown-Forman of Kentucky, the maker of Jack Daniels Whiskey and a McConnell contributor.

Conceptually, Baer’s concept is a simple one: convince companies such as Rite Aid Pharmacies, General Electric Corporation and Wendy’s Restaurants that they either support progressive change or lose customers. In turn he hopes such a campaign will have an impact in the corridors of power.

Baer has his critics and was banned from Daily Kos as well as the social networking sites Facebook and My Space for aggressive promotion of his agenda. And one can argue he is being overly simplistic and naïve.

Nonetheless, I give him credit for trying to make a difference instead of simply using his computer keyboard as a soapbox to rant. Baer is asking people to not only make these calls but recruit others as well.

So, I’ve made my telephone calls, waited patiently and navigated through the 800 number vortexes to speak with a human being and express myself. The Wendy’s customer service representative insisted on directing me to their website to get me off the phone. The reps at General Electric and Rite Aid were merely flummoxed but dutifully promised to “pass on” my views. McConnell’s office also politely “noted” my telephone call.

Change is hard work. Often it’s not glamorous or exciting. Whether it’s knocking on doors or phone banking to elect particular candidates or slogging away like Dennis Baer against corporate giants. People are cynical; call you naïve and often just laugh. Yet those very same people will then proceed to whine when politicians such as Barack Obama are compelled to compromise and make no effort to provide a counter-weight from the bottom up to help facilitate progressive change.

The “system” is powerful and even politicians with their hearts in the right place have to navigate it. Therefore, the change we want won’t come from contenting ourselves with merely having elected Obama and congressional Democrats and then complain when his appointments are not 100% satisfactory. What did you expect? Did you really think the system would just disappear?

We have to remain engaged on all levels and keep pushing. That’s why I made those calls and will again. That Wendy’s rep hasn’t heard the last from me! I hope readers here will do the same, enlist your friends and even promote other companies to boycott/pressure as Dennis Baer has done.

Some Blasts From The Past

It's day one of a new year but before looking ahead, here is an entertaining video montage of the pitiful Bush years courtesy of David Letterman. As the saying goes, laughter is better then tears.